One of the first all gay cruises – Cruising on the SS BERMUDA STAR in 1987 aboard the second all gay cruises operated by RSVP. It is a retro look at gay life. Operated by gay pioneer RSVP the passengers dubbed the ship Bermuda Star Cruise Line ship the SS BRENDA STARR.
In BUT THE SHOW WENT ON, (the prequel to his best-selling memoir, POSTCARDS FROM PALM SPRINGS) author Robert Julian recounts sailing aboard the S.S. Bermuda Star from New Orleans in 1987 – over twenty years ago. This was the second all gay cruise. RSVP founder, Kevin J. Mossier, had a bold, new idea – to provide a safe, tailor-made vacation environment for gay men and lesbians. Unable, at the time, to find a resort that would open its doors to the concept, he found an understanding company known as the Bermuda Star Line and the gay cruise was born.
The RSVP second all gay cruise – “A Cruise To Remember” – sailed out of New Orleans, February 15, 1987 with 750 guests ready to create and enjoy the overwhelming experience that only can happen on an all gay vacation. Bermuda Star Line was open to the gay cruise idea and chartered the Bermuda Star to RSVP.
Other major companies, such as Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, etc., were very reluctant to do a gay cruise and charter to RSVP or any other gay travel organization for a long time. Of course, in the end, money talks and all the major cruise companies clamored for gay and lesbian business.
(left) The SS Bermuda Star was originally the Moore-McCormick liner SS Argentina. This is a photo of the children/teenage dining room in the 1950s on a voyage from New York to Buenos Aires. Wonder if any of them eventually ended up on an RSVP Cruise?
Julian writes about his experience in the mid-1980s aboard the S.S. Bermuda Star in his new book – BUT THE SHOW WENT ON – which you can order by clicking here. This is not your standard “Cruise Critic” travel piece.
Cruising on the SS Brenda Starr by Robert Julian
From the San Francisco Sentinel
(1987) RSVP’s second all gay cruise aboard the SS Bermuda Star!
The RSVP travel brochure promises “a cruise to remember,” a minimal expectation under the circumstances. Any time you put 750 gay men on a boat, chances are they’ll walk way with a few memorable moments. What follows is a week in my life aboard the SS Bermuda Star. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I have changed some names. This is not a travelogue.
The relentless late afternoon sun pushes unseasonably warm and humid temperatures even higher. My roommate David and I check into our hotel in the French Quarter and immediately hit the streets. It our first visit to New Orleans and we sail tomorrow morning, so we want to take in as much as possible. The Quarter is a tired party girl, decked out in centuries old finery, decaying round the edges. Ornate balconies lean over cobblestone streets exposing themselves for the benefit of tourists. Secluded courtyards, hiding at the end of corridors, hold a vague promise of mystery and intrigue that is orchestrated by the lingering sound of jazz floating from the clubs along Bourbon Street. Drinking beer from paper cups, tourists wander aimlessly, peering down alleys and beyond wrought iron gates for a glimpse of a Stanley Kowalski or ersatz Blanche Dubois. It is all too Tennessee Williams.
We stop by The Mint for happy hour and I run into an old friend and future shipmate who now lives in Washington D.C. Before we know it, a group of about 10 people has assembled, carrying on like Jewish mothers at a bar mitzvah. One of them works for All American Boy in New Orleans, and although he is not going on the cruise, he extends his own brand of Southern hospitality by inviting me to a private J.O. party the Monday after the ship returns. Do you think this is what Blanche meant by “the kindness of strangers”?
We all decide to attend a masked party at Jewels after dinner and, several hours later, David and I find ourselves pushing our way through another crowded bar. Forget Williams, this is beginning to feel like Fellini. Since I usually spend about three hours a month in bars at home, I’m beginning to lose all touch with normal reality. This feeling is heightened by being surrounded by dozens of men wearing bizarre feathered masks.
Back by the pool table I run into more shipmates. Jack, an old friend from San Francisco, and his new lover, Richard, are standing with a mad Cuban queen named Ramon, while another friend, Bill, leans against the cigarette machine. David pulls me aside and, with his uncanny knack of tuning-in on my wavelength, gives me some history on Bill.